Can you blog and still be a decent person?

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Lately, I have not posted much on my blog-not because of a lack of ideas or motivation.  I am not blocked.  I have written plenty of pieces.  It’s just that much of what I write is about the people I know-my daughter’s teacher, people I meet at the park where I take my children, family members, friends… My draft folder is full of pieces, some of which are not fully flattering representations of the people in my life.  I am afraid to share this work because I don’t want to hurt anyone.  Well, that’s partly true.  The other part of it is that I also don’t want to face the consequences of calling people out. So what happens is that I write and never publish.

As a writer I am feeling the burden of self-censorship.  When I hold back, the work is not true, not authentic.  When I let go and write without restraint, I feel uneasy, guilty and fearful that I have been hurtful and cruel.

This brings to mind a novel I read over the summer-Elizabth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton.” There is a moment in the story when Sarah Payne, a writer and teacher tells the title character, “If you find yourself protecting anyone as you write a piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.”  If this is true, which I suspect it is, how do you write and remain a decent person?

Do you sacrifice feelings and relationships at the altar of good writing?  Is telling your story worth it? 

Blogging is a particularly tricky business because it is so personal. Usually, family and friends follow you. They read your posts and know who you are writing about.   Yes, I suppose that you can change the names of the people and places to protect their identities.  Really though, if I write about a teacher who gives too much homework but am careful to change her name, people who know me, who know my children, will be able to figure out who I am talking about or, given that I have two children, will be able to at least narrow it down to one of two people.

And while we’re on the subject…How do I write about my children and not steal their stories?  Of course our lives are inextricably linked, but aren’t their stories theirs to tell?  How much right do I have to discuss their lives, their struggles, their mistakes?   I do not feel that just because I am their mother, that I am in any way entitled to use their lives to further my writing. At what point am I stealing what is theirs?  The internet is full of mommy bloggers.  Sometimes I read what is out there and I wonder what their children will think when they grow up and read the stories their mothers posted about them.

Can we as writers find a balance between speaking truthfully and protecting others?  Should we?  Or should we just tell our stories, the truth as we see it?  Should we release ourselves from the shackles of censorship? If we do, can we still write and be decent people?

 

Mrs. Nanni Makes a Home…With the Help of Her Blog

How about a picture? Curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

How about curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

I have read a few articles by writers who state that blogging has made them better people, and I get it. It really makes complete sense. At the end of the day I don’t want to read my blog and realize that I am nothing more than the member of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, recounting sad tales of my days and providing myself with the insights I could have used in real time rather than in hindsight. Worse yet, I don’t want to read my blog and realize I have been the protagonist in my own life, jacking things up for myself and everyone around me. While it’s one thing to employ self-effacement for humor and levity, it’s another thing to just be an ass. Soooo…what’s my point?

I think I should begin with this. It is a fact that I am domestically challenged. In my adult life, I have yet to make a house a home in the physical sense. For me, experience transcends the material. Following this logic, as long as there is deep love and joy and excitement, some sense of joie de vivre, then the actual setting where life takes place has been relatively unimportant. My thought has been if you take away the happiness of experience then you hold to the setting, the material, for some sort satisfaction. My reasoning, however is deeply flawed.

While I keep a clean home, it is stark. I have simply been too busy living life with my family to give it much attention. When we first moved into our house I had grand decorating plans. I had the children’s rooms freshly painted. I bought beautiful comfortors with matching curtains. I even hung the curtains, until I took them down to have our windows replaced. Now they sit in a closet, almost forgotten because I have been too busy living life.

The question is, have I been living my life or have I been consumed by my life? It’s not as though I’m always happy. I worry…A LOT. I am stressed…A LOT. I work all the time. I am tired. It really would be so nice to have a warm and inviting place to rest at the end of the day. But I didn’t give this much thought until last week.

Giorgio and I were sitting in the kitchen when our Jack came in with a catalog from some home furnishing company. It was their winter issue and in it were pictures of homes beautifully decorated for Christmas. Jack loves Christmas and winter and snow. He loves to look at Norman Rockwell’s painting of main street Stockbridge at Christmastime. He loves images of Sundblom’s Santa sitting by a roaring fire and paintings of villages during winter with their white steepled churches and homes with illuminated windows that leave the viewer to imagine the cheer and warmth and fragrance that is within. While Jack was sitting in the kitchen showing us his catalog, his eyes filled up. When asked “why” he responded, “It’s just so beautiful.” This is the moment that I realized that setting really does matter.

Of course setting matters. Yes you can perform a play in a black box theater, but the brilliance of that is that each audience member gets to set it as they like, as his imagination deem best. I feel that my Jack and Allegra lack for nothing other than a setting. Jack craves warmth and coziness, and I am sure Allegra does as well. Yes, they have all they could possibly need and more, toys and books and clothes and joyful experiences and the great love of parents who have placed them at the center of their universe. But they don’t have a beautiful setting for which to settle their memories. As time marches forward and memories become more and more distant from the actual experiences those feelings they had as children will need to be paired with images just as powerful in order to survive their battle against time and old age. More importantly, they need the experience of a warm and inviting home now because they deserve it. We all do. Home is not just an abstraction. It is physical; it is material, and as such, it should be beautiful. I know. I know. Most everyone else figured this our ages ago.

So this brings me back to my initial point. How will I use this blog to make me a better person? Each month I will post pictures of the progress I make as I attempt to transform the Nanni house into a home…in the physical sense. I don’ want to just make a joke out of my lack of domestic prowess; although, it does provide some pretty decent comedic material. I don’t want to look back and regret that I never paid attention to the setting of our life together as a family. Here goes. Wish me luck.

Why Am I Doing This?

So, this is my maiden voyage into the blogosphere. For years, I have contemplated blogging, but, since I have been so busy raising my little people, I felt that I could not justify committing the time to such a pursuit.  I mean writing, especially about myself and my ideas, seemed too self-indulgent, too narcissistic.  Now, I in no way believe that this is a healthy way think. Do we need to justify everything we do?  Of course not.  Are we not entitled to engage in pursuits that give us pleasure and fulfillment? Of course we are.  It’s just that at the time, I was not so enlightened, at least when it came to viewing myself.   Then two things happened. I had an epiphany during a conversation with my husband, and, at about the same time, I picked up a book I had owned for years and never looked at and finally decided to read the first chapter.

The aforementioned conversation with my husband was not unlike the conversations he and I have almost every day.  Don’t expect it to be anything mind-blowing .  I can’t even recall exactly what we were talking about.  All I remember is that he and I were sharing what we both believed were some pretty good ideas when I thought to myself, “Too bad we probably won’t remember any of this in a few days.  These great ideas will disappear as if they were never thought, never uttered.” I know. This is not a terribly deep or intellectual thought, and yet, for me, it was very profound.  It came to me. This is why I want to write. I want to preserve my ideas.  Whether they be smart or silly or simply a reflection of where I am at a certain period in my life, I want to make them real, to give them some weight, some validity, to write them down.  In fifty years, if my mind starts to go, I want some proof of my intellectual and emotional existence.  I don’t want to be left with a withered body and the memories that others have of the me that once was. 

Shortly after I had my mini epiphany about why I should write, a teacher friend of mine came to the house for a visit.  We were sitting in my living room when she spotted The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy McCormick Calkins stacked up in one of my many book piles.  She asked if she could take a look at it, flipped through the pages and left it on my coffee table.  Now I have owned this book for years.  I purchased it over a decade ago when I was in graduate school, and for some reason, never found the time to read it.  That evening I read the first chapter and was struck.  In it Calkins states

…as human beings, we write to communicate, plan, petition, remember, announce, list, imagine…but above all, we write to hold our lives in our hands and make something of them.  There is no plot line in the bewildering complexity of our lives but that which we make for ourselves.  Writing allows us to turn the chaos into something beautiful, to frame selected moments, to uncover and celebrate the organizing patterns of our existence.* (8)

That, my friends, said it all.  Through her writing, Calkins articulated my thoughts, and thus gave them substance and validity. 

 Reading those few lines written by Calkins inspired me to proceed.  To write.  To write to be heard in a world where so few truly listen.  I write to make my existence, my experience my thoughts real.  I write to freeze time and preserve the beautiful moments I share with my children.  I write to make meaning out of what sometimes appears meaningless and see the beauty in things that otherwise may go unnoticed or unappreciated.  I write because my time on this earth, all our time, is finite and I want to notice and enjoy and preserve all that I can while I am here. 

*Calkins, Lucy McCormick. The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1994. Print.